Thinking of starting an e-commerce business? Here’s how

6 minute read

Starting an online business can be a challenge when you don’t know where to start. There are several initial questions to answer:

  • What platform should I use for my store?
  • How do I attract customers?
  • What product(s) should I sell?
  • How much should I charge for shipping?

There are no “right answers” for the questions above – you really have to try out different approaches and feel your way through. But with a little guidance, it’s all well worth the effort.

To help you get started on the right foot in e-commerce, here are a few tips for creating a successful online business.

Name your business carefully

It’s easy to make a critical mistake when it comes to choosing a brand name for your business. You might be tempted to choose a name out of thin air and jump the gun on designing a logo, branding your goods and products and promoting that name for the business before confirming that the domain for your desired name is available. Once you realize that it isn’t, and that you’ve made a mistake, you’re already faced with an expensive and time-consuming rebrand. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be this way!

Choosing a unique and memorable brand name, with a simple domain to match (.com’s work best), is good for your SEO. You can search for available domains and purchase a custom domain through domain registrars and hosting providers like Google Domain and GoDaddy.

Make sure to register your business name and buy your domain at roughly the same time – ideally well before you launch your store.

Build a website

Entrepreneurs that aren’t web savvy are often persuaded to invest in an expensive custom-built website for their e-commerce business. The truth is that today, that is totally unnecessary and can be a bad investment for a business just starting out. There are so many affordable and easy-to-use website design resources available which are designed to help entrepreneurs like you create an impressive e-commerce website quickly and on budget.

Two retail merchants review their e-commerce orders on a tablet and laptop.

Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix are just a few of the many popular and user-friendly website design platforms that are used by millions of businesses to create functional and beautiful online stores with ease, for less. They offer customizable website templates. These platforms are very efficient – they work with multiple payment tools and provide data, inventory management and order tracking tools to help you manage your orders, products and customers, plus enable you to gain insight into how your store is performing. They are incredibly helpful when it comes to setting your business up for success and growth. Most of these platforms even offer you a free custom domain, or enable you to buy or register a domain for your store.

Ensure your website is easy to use

Most online shoppers have a limited attention span and are impatient when it comes to website navigation and page loading times. Ensure that your website offers an easy-to-navigate experience. Go for simple site navigation and include a returns policy that is easy to locate, clear and concise. 63 per cent of online shoppers look at a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase and 80 per cent of shoppers will not make a purchase unless there is a hassle-free returns policy.

Make checkout a breeze

You’ll want to ensure your checkout process is simple and clear. Making customers jump through too many hoops is never in your best interest. For example, don’t waste your customers’ time with things like mandatory account creation – let them get to the point faster by checking out as a guest so they don’t potentially abandon their cart. A 2018 ReadyCloud report revealed that an average of 35 per cent of online transactions were dropped because the website required the user to create an account before checkout. You can give customers the option to create an account, but also enable guest checkout for those in a hurry.

Choose a Product to Sell

You don’t need to manufacture your own products to sell online. Deciding whether to create your own products, or to purchase and/or advertise the products of others, is an important step when starting an online business.

Selling products manufactured by others can be much simpler, and is worth consideration if you will have a small team.

Dropshipping

If you want your e-commerce store to be more of a low-maintenance side business, dropshipping might be right for you. Many young entrepreneurs today are pursuing dropshipping in the hopes of making “easy” money. Before you jump on the bandwagon, it’s important to note that successful dropshipping is not as easy as some online gurus would have you believe. There are several moving parts to monitor in an online store – no matter what you sell. Things like hosting, suppliers, quality, quantity, and price points are all crucial things to keep in mind. Make sure you learn the ins and outs of dropshipping before you take the leap.

Find a good shipping partner

When you run an online store, it’s critical to have a good shipping partner. You will want to keep your shipping costs low, your parcel pickup/drop off and delivery methods convenient, and ensure that your customers’ receiving experience is pleasant. Canada Post Solutions for Small BusinessTM is free to join, and offers savings of up to 34 per cent across Canada, and 47 per cent internationally. Our membership also includes scheduled pickups for only $3.50 for an unlimited number of parcels.

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Offer free shipping and/or reasonably priced shipping

Make sure shipping cost information is clear and easy to find on your site or at checkout (customers hate being surprised by high shipping costs in the final stretch). It’s critical to ensure that your cost of shipping is either free or reasonable (generally the lower the better), but keep in mind that even the biggest e-commerce stores can’t afford to offer free shipping year round. You don’t have to either – offering it at strategic times throughout the year is a good alternative that your customers will appreciate.

Don’t underestimate the importance of free and low-cost shipping. Consumers spend 30 per cent more when they buy items that offer free shipping. On the flipside, 61 per cent of shoppers are “somewhat likely” to abandon their cart if free shipping is not available.

When it comes to returns, offering free return shipping can improve sales by at least 25 per cent in six months.

Make sure the receiving experience is painless for your customers

A lot of businesses send a package out the door and feel like their job is done. The “final mile,” or the delivery journey, matters greatly to consumers. If it goes poorly, it will reflect badly on your business. Make sure your shipper serves the areas you sell to, is dependable, quick, courteous and professional.

Market your business wisely

Marketing may be your most important undertaking when creating a successful online business. Advertising, social media, direct mail, email, customer targeting and SEO are just a few of the many essential marketing elements to consider when crafting your marketing strategy.

Identify your ideal customer

The first step in creating your marketing strategy should be establishing who your target audience is. Once you have that sorted out, you can begin researching the best methods of digital communication and direct mail to attract and target those customers and increase sales.

Jump the gun

A little excitement never hurts in business. Many successful businesses begin marketing before their product is live. They do what they can to spread the word and begin building a following and buzz in the real world and on social media to increase positive word of mouth and gain traction.

A successful online business is well within reach. If you’re ready to launch an online business, we’re ready to help you get started and thrive.

Sources:
“15 Online Shopping Statistics That You Should Know”, FitSmallBusiness, July 2017.
“31 Shopping Cart Abandonment Statistics for 2018”, Annex Cloud, 2018.
“Improving Product Returns Presents Biggest Opportunity for Retailers Wishing to Increase Online Shopping Satisfaction”, Comscore, June 2012.
“How to Determine the Most Cost-Effective Freight Management Strategy for Your Unique Brand Needs”, Bigcommerce.

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